I didn’t originally care about Mad Max: Fury Road. I didn’t care that it supposedly harbored some semblance of a feminist message or that it was an action movie so exhilarating and epic it makes Michael Bay‘s testicles shrivel and retract into his pelvis. I hadn’t seen any of the original Mad Max films with Mel Gibson, so I didn’t feel like I had a sufficient frame of reference to appreciate the new film wholly, presuming I would like it at all.
But after a while, all this non-stop praise directed towards the film, both from movie-goers and critics, got so bizarrely high (to the point where it currently holds a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) that I eventually became curious. I was struck with a feeling that I sorta had to see just what in Krishna’s name this movie got so astronomically right in the eyes of so many.
The film in question takes place in the most excessively orange-tinted future I’ve seen since Riddick, although it is set in the wastelands of a post-apocalyptic Earth instead of on some wacky desert planet, and is a lot more aesthetically pleasing in the way it is shot and colored. Apparently, in this future we’ve all more or less become savages who chase each other around on various awesomely weird-looking vehicles. Again, I haven’t seen the original films, but the imagery in Fury Road did evoke some memories of an episode of ReBoot I saw as a child.
While the film is named after Tom Hardy‘s character Mad Max, the notoriously badass road warrior formerly played by Mel Gibson, he is not the film’s true focus. Instead its spotlight shines on a different warrior known as Furiosa, played damn well by Charlize Theron, and her five female allies who have just escaped from being used for breeding purposes by vicious cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who looks like a mix between Darth Vader, a wrestler, and the clown from American Horror Story. The “Wives”, as they’re referred to, are played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee Kershaw and Courtney Eaton. They all plan on going to a place where things are better, all whilst the “War Boys”, to cite the true epithet of Joe’s underlings, chase after them.
These characters are all memorable in their respective right, and Max, instead of being an outright hero, is more of an observer who is swept into their adventure and ends up aiding them in getting where they want to go. Oh and Nicholas Hoult shows up too, playing as one of the relatively less crazy War Boys. He’s sure come a long way since About A Boy.
I will say, however, since the memorability of these characters stems mostly from how utterly crazy they all are, there isn’t a ton of time devoted to character development or scenes of “humanity”. The way the film is structured, especially in terms of action, factors into this problem, minor though it admittedly is.
Action-wise the movie is exemplary and powerful to be sure, but it does get damn near exhausting after not too long. At times, it feels like you’re watching an extended climax; a movie that skips the beginning and the middle and jumps straight to the ending, and then stays there for approximately two hours. But in spite of this, the general pacing and adrenaline-level is so skillfully consistent throughout Mad Max that director George Miller has succeeded where most action filmmakers have failed ever so tragically: making a movie that’s so thunderously insane that the story doesn’t matter. Yes, I said it and I shall stick by it.
Also, something I cannot possibly praise Miller enough for is the fact that he hugely relied on practical effects for his action scenes instead of digital ones, even to the extent that digital effects were only used where it was absolutely necessary. Everything else is happening and existing in front of the camera. The sets; the costumes; cars flipping; things exploding; the whole shebang. And yes, most of those pimped out gargantuan vehicles were, in fact, just as big and even capable of movement in real life! Bravo, Mr. Miller. You have made filmmaking interesting again.
Choosing practical effects over CGI is undoubtedly a triumph this movie has over the also recent Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even if I still partially prefer the way Avengers provided its wittiness, occasional dramatic breaks and character moments, Mad Max is no doubt the one that got it right in terms of SFX. And even if Mad Max is probably the more feminist film between the two, I’m willing to guess Charlize Theron’s Furiosa toyline won’t be a whole lot bigger than that of Black Widow.
Despite some small complaints I’ve made above, let me solidify that I absolutely adored Mad Max: Fury Road. It looks amazing, it sounds just as great, its world is creatively deranged, the production design is miraculous, the acting is wildly good, the characters are all cool (especially that villain), and the non-stop chaotic action is still varied and intense enough that it thankfully won’t exhaust you too much. Furthermore, it can indeed be enjoyed without having seen the originals. While it might not be as ground-breakingly feministic as I imagined it, it is definitely progressive in how it incorporates its female characters and does poignantly comment on the objectification of women everywhere in the world. I can’t wait until someone on Tumblr decides that it doesn’t count because a white man directed it.
EDIT 28-05-2015: This is one of those films where I will unapologetically state that I went back and changed my rating after re-watching the film and truly thinking about how much this movie actually means for the art of filmmaking. It went from 4 to 5 and I’m glad I had that little epiphany about it. Once again, Miller, BRAVO!